Ngāti Awa trace their ancestry back to the people they believed were living in New Zealand before Māori arrived, and to those who arrived from Hawaiki on board the Mataatua canoe. The tribe have left their footprints in many parts of the country. Today, Ngāti Awa are based in the eastern Bay of Plenty, with communities in Whakatāne, Te Teko, Edgecumbe, Matatā and Kawerau.
Ngāti Awa’s first ancestors were Māui-tikitiki-a-taranga, the demigod, and his descendant Te Papa-titi-rau-maewa. After them came Tīwakawaka, the first explorer to settle the land around Kākahoroa (Whakatāne). His canoe was Te Aratauwhāiti, and his descendants came to be known as Ngāti Ngāinui, the original people of Whakatāne.
Twelve generations after Tīwakawaka came Toitehuatahi (Toi), who lived at Kaputerangi, above Whakatāne. He is acknowledged as the principal ancestor of many North Island tribes, including Ngāti Awa. Toi’s firstborn was Rauru, whose mother was Huiarei; his second-born was Awanuiarangi I, whose mother was Te Kuraimōnoa. The descendants of Awanuiarangi are Ngāti Awa of the Bay of Plenty, Ngāti Awa of the far north, and Te Āti Awa of Taranaki.
The Mataatua canoe
Ngāti Awa traditions record the arrival at Whakatāne of the Mataatua canoe, which had sailed from the ancestral homeland Hawaiki. Those aboard brought the kūmara (sweet potato) to Kākahoroa, and a parcel of soil from Rangiātea to place in the garden, Matirerau, in Whakatāne.
Toroa, captain of the Mataatua, is acknowledged as one of the principal ancestors of Ngāti Awa. Toroa had a son named Ruaihona, who in turn fathered Te Tahinga-o-te-rā. His son was Awanuiarangi II, whom Ngāti Awa acknowledge as their eponymous ancestor, and from whom all sub-tribes of the tribe trace descent. Ngāi Te Rangi at Tauranga also have close genealogical connections with Ngāti Awa, and both tribes have maintained strong links over many generations.